Sports Groups Battle Stadium TFR Changes


A coalition of sports leagues including the NFL, MLB and NASCAR are opposing a provision in the FAA Reauthorization Bill, currently making its way through the Senate, which relaxes flight restrictions over the nation’s stadiums during sporting events—a first since 9/11.

As it stands, the FAA issues a temporary flight restriction above any stadium or raceway that seats more than 30,000 people from one hour before the event to one hour after the event, creating a no-fly zone 3,000 feet above and 3 nautical miles from the center of the stadium. Flights conducted by law enforcement, air ambulance and the military are exempt from the restrictions.

The changes outlined in the FAA reauthorization bill would allow the FAA to grant a flight waiver within three-quarters of a mile of a stadium during game day—a move which the leagues say puts the public at risk.

In a July letter to Congress, the leagues wrote, “The current statutory ban on aircraft – including unmanned aircraft systems (‘UAS’) or drones – flying over large stadium sporting events throughout the country provides necessary safety and security protections against real and potential threats.”

Speaking with ESPN, Cathy Lanier, NFL senior vice president of security, said, “Aircraft can be used as a weapon and that is one of the top concerns that we’ve had for 20 years.”

However, the changes have garnered the support of AOPA and Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, who championed the move.

In a statement to ESPN, Graves said, “It’s simply wrong to suggest that existing flight restrictions have any connection to preventing terrorism.” He went on to explain the waivers would be issued on a case-by-case basis in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice.

Lawmakers have just days to pass an FAA Reauthorization bill to avoid a government shutdown on Sept. 30.

Amelia Walsh
Amelia Walsh is a private pilot who enjoys flying her family’s Columbia 350. She is based in Colorado and loves all things outdoors including skiing, hiking, and camping.

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  1. About time these “TFR’s” were eliminated. Need to eliminate the Mickey Mouse TFR also! Problem is it is highly unlikely any FAA bill will get passed on time due to current squabbles with Congress trying to pass a CR to avoid a government shutdown.

  2. The present TFR system will never be relaxed. They are here to stay forever in our lifetime. Organizations and Groups and Agencies far removed from aviation experts and homeland security officials and domestic terrorism experts have had too much ” say so ” power in crafting them from day one. Witness here, how this NFL ☆ Senior VP of NFL Security ☆ is balking about an FAA waiver ability to maybe get approved on a case by case basis for a drop down reduction to 3/4 mile.
    The U.S. Secret Service is also notorious for stopping any TFR reduction protocols or elimination of same.

    • Congress can stop the secret service. Why do you think DCA still exists? Because Congress won’t let the secret service to shut it down, it is too inconvenient for Congress persons to drive to IAD (sarcasm intended).

  3. Amelia, you seem a bit young so I’m guessing you may not have been flying when the towers fell and may not remember how and why this all went down. That’s probably worth doing a bit of investigative reporting on for any follow-up articles you write on this subject.

    After the towers fell, the country was in shock and the public willing to support pretty much anything in the name of security. After the dust began to settle, many parties decided to try to use this to their advantage including the NFL, NASCAR, Disney, etc. who were very upset about banner towers advertising over their events. Since they had no control over the airspace, they had no control over this unauthorized advertising to their patrons which was the only source of advertising at their events that they could not demand a cut from. Hence, they went to congress and demanded the TFRs in the name of “security.”

    • In the late 1960s and early 1970s, it was common for us, young Southern California pilots, to fly over Disneyland in Anaheim, CA, doing donuts around the Matterhorn, which raised safety concerns. I believe this activity contributed to the establishment of the Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) in that area.

    • “ they had no control over this unauthorized advertising to their patrons”

      What is “unauthorized” advertising?

    • Your valid point could have been quite well without the patronizing and unnecessary “Amelia, you seem a bit young…” paragraph.

  4. The event TFRs are 3000′ and below, not above as stated…at least all of the ones currently listed on the charts.

    Also, there are differences between the government shutdown and the FAA bill. Just passing the FAA Reauthorization Bill will not keep the government open as suggested.

  5. “Aircraft can be used as a weapon and that is one of the top concerns that we’ve had for 20 years.”

    And they really think 3 miles is going to make a difference? Even a lowly 172 will cover those 3 miles in a minute and a half or less. I doubt even a 20 miles perimeter (10 minutes flying time) would be enough to identify, analyze, and respond to an actual threat, so they really should just do away with *all* TFRs that aren’t for things like firefighting/etc.

  6. As Gary said, a stadium or Disney TFR has absolute nothing to do with the safety of those activities. 3 miles or a decent from 3,000′ overhead can be done in a moment. And, unlike a Presidential TFR, there are no F16s, nothing out there to stop any attack regardless. A joke if said done for security.

  7. I, too, throw the “BS-flag” on the sports organizations’ concern about an airborne threat. While they may be slightly concerned about the competition for advertising revenue from orbiting banner-tows, I suspect what they really want to prevent is anyone filming the game from above. Raising the question, do enclosed stadiums get TFR’s? They aren’t in any more danger of an airborne attack than a convention center.

    • Enclosed football and baseball stadiums do get TFRs. Here in Houston, both the Astros and Texans stadiums have moveable roofs, but they are almost always closed due to the rule that they cannot be moved from their present position (either open or shut) once the game has started. Regardless of position, they always have posted TFRs during a game.

      To illustrate the folly of the TFR system, on a flight several years ago, I noticed that there was a TFR posted over the LSU university “Tiger” football stadium in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. When I read the captions on my WingX map, it said that the TFR was for a sports event of the Detroit Tigers baseball team up in Michigan. Oops, wrong Tiger stadium!

      • I can come up with a better one. In 2016 the NBA Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA championship. First pro sport championship in Cleveland since 1964. The city held a parade for the team in the downtown area. I was on office standby that day for the air medical company I flew for then. The local press estimated over a million fans were present to see the parade that day. There was no TFR issued. Banner tow, and new helicopters were flying as usual, all VFR operators. Just shows how worthless these “TFR’s” are.

  8. The senator got it right. Graves said, “It’s simply wrong to suggest that existing flight restrictions have any connection to preventing terrorism.”
    Get rid of the TFR completely unless you have a Combat Air Patrol overhead. A waste of taxpayers $ and government resources.
    If the threat is high enough to warrant CAP it probably should be CNX.

  9. I was flying for a banner operator when these TFR’s were created. There was a public comment meeting held in DC around that time and my boss and I attended along with owners and representatives from about 50 other banner companies from around the country and exact 1 lawyer representing the NFL. Everyone was given the opportunity to comment and all of the comments except 1 talked about how the TFR’s did nothing to increase the safety of anyone and only prevented hard working Americans from earning a livelihood.

    After the meeting I ended sharing an elevator with a woman who was one rung below the director of the agency. I told her that her decision on this was going to cause people to lose their homes and businesses. She looked me straight in the eye and said “we know these TFR’s don’t protect anyone from anything. But we have to make it look like we’re doing something….”

    All these years later I’m still struck by the memory of how she didn’t show even one inkling of shame for the actions she was taking nor one shred of compassion for the innocent people whose lives she was about ruin.

  10. An honest assessment is that TFRs do nothing for safety, since basic minimum altitude regs in 91.119 already do that. Hell, the planes used on 9/11 were under ATC control ion IFR flight plans in controlled airspace and that made ZERO difference as far as *safety on the ground”.

  11. I remember in the 90s doing a few circles around one of our local stadiums. There were usually one to two banner tows also in the “pattern”. So the 3 mile limit gives about 1 minute to target, but from 3000 feet above, in a dive that could be a few seconds at most. There is zero security in this policy. It boggles my mind how impractical our government is. We have lost all common sense.

  12. ‘Bout. Dam. Time. The TFRs need to go. They are anything but temporary anyway. Like the permanent TFR around DC. Set up Prohibited areas around national defense areas and leave the TFRs to temporary flight hazards, such as disaster services, aerial firefighting, airshows, etc. There should never be a permanent TFR.

    Sporting events do not need to have any flight restrictions. They pose no hazard to air traffic and anyone who wants to crash their plane into a NASCAR race will do it. There is no way to stop them with a TFR.

  13. Helen Woods is exactly correct about the genesis of these sporting event TFRs; the NFL had tried for over two decades to eliminate banner towers from airspace close enough to stadiums that the banners could be read by football fans, completely without success. NFL’s real reason was that banner towers paid the league no tribute, unlike the advertisers of everything else in or near an NFL stadium. To it’s eternal credit, FAA consistently found no safety justification for such a ban and correctly found itself without legal authority to implement one. Immediately after 9/11, NFL demanded its ban from Congress in the name of security. Panicked as Congress was at the time, the Members were easy pick-ens; including other leagues and sports was NFL’s way of covering its cracks.
    As was true of NFL’s purported safety justification before 9/11, there is no security justification for these TFRs now. This TFR airspace is too small to permit identification and response in the event of a real threat, and a TFR large enough to have security significance would be far too large and burdensome for the rest of affected society to accept. It is well past time for Congress to put an end to unconscionable security charade.

  14. Great – some TFRs make sense, like the ones that are designed to keep benign, but nosy pilots out of wildfire areas.
    On the other hand, when it comes to trying to keep malicious crooks and terrorists in planes out of stadium areas, TFRs do absolutely nothing to protect anyone; all they do is provide pilots with a bizarre way to look up baseball schedules and interrupt local flight training on a daily basis.

  15. “…provides necessary safety and security protections against real and potential threats.” And “It’s simply wrong to suggest that existing flight restrictions have any connection to preventing terrorism.”

    Bold talk from the leagues and ESPN. Prove it.

  16. Hellen Wood had it correct. I too was a banner tower when the towers came down, and I was working fir one of the airlines involved in NY. The NCAA, NFL, and NASCAR made an emotional land grab and lobbied to have the banner towers removed, due to the fact that they did not get a cut of the proceeds. Further more the terrorists chose the aircraft used on 911 for a reason. The aircraft used that day had large quantities of fuel on board, which investigators found is what brought the towers down. A Pawnee, C-172, Super Cub etc. does not have the fuel, or weight ( energy) to cause large scale damage. NASCAR doesn’t seem to have any problem with hundreds of RV’s in the infield that could be packed with explosives.

  17. Another reason these TFRs do nothing for ‘safety’ is that an aircraft in communication with ATC (such as on an IFR flight plan or flight following) can simply fly straight through them.

  18. Quoting the article: In a July letter to Congress, the leagues wrote, “The current statutory ban on aircraft – including unmanned aircraft systems (‘UAS’) or drones – flying over large stadium sporting events throughout the country provides necessary safety and security protections against real and potential threats.”

    This is analogous to the braindead logic of “Gun Free Zones”. Proponents of lunacy like these ideas have their heads in the sand, and think their pristine “wisdom” will make people safe. It does nothing of the sort – it makes law-abiding people defenseless targets.

    The silly flight restrictions over sporting events use the same flawed logic. The 9/11 terrorists didn’t give a rip about any flight restrictions in the area. They just got about their business and killed thousands. Sporting event “restrictions” do nothing to prevent similar occurences – again, bad guys just don’t care.